A Nurse’s Fight to End Drug Addiction

July 29, 2019

Ken Rodenbaugh, RN, CARN, CEN, a nurse in the Southern Ocean Medical Center Emergency Department, speaks from experience when he educates his fellow nurses at Hackensack Meridian Health about the signs of drug diversion and addiction.

“I was the epitome of stigma and ignorance, even while I was using,” Ken says. “I didn’t think I had a problem; I didn’t think I was one of ‘them.’”

Terminated from a previous job in 2013 for diversion of narcotics, Ken quickly entered rehab, where he learned about the Recovery and Monitoring Program (RAMP), a program in New Jersey that supports nurses fighting substance abuse through treatment and returning to work. RAMP is managed by the Institute for Nursing and New Jersey Board of Nursing.

“There’s almost no education on RAMP, and that’s what really fired me up. I was a nurse for seven years, and not one person told me about it,” Ken says.

He did not want other nurses to remain in the dark on this issue, so he collaborated with RAMP to develop a presentation that teaches nurses and hospital teams to recognize signs of drug diversion and addiction among their peers, and how they can help by reporting them. He now gives his presentation to every nurse who is hired at Hackensack Meridian Health, as well as at conferences around the country and through his personal website.

His dedication extends outside of the hospital setting and into the classroom. Ken is the coordinator of Project Aware, a dramatic presentation that educates sixth graders about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. The presentation realistically portrays the events of a single night, where kids are at a party and one of them overdoses. Students watching the presentation are even bused to the hospital, where they have a front-row view of the Emergency Department as doctors and nurses work to save the kid’s life.

Ken also shares his testimonial with students. “These kids are leaving with an emotional, lasting memory,” he says.

Jillian Messina, of the Toms River Police Department, is confident that Project Aware will save lives. The Toms River Police Department and the Toms River Regional School District took part in the program in 2018.

“The day after the show, we were flooded with positive feedback from the administration and teachers in the pilot school, as well as guests of the performance,” Jillian says. “But what really impacted us most were the parents thanking us for the dialogue it opened up in their homes. They were so grateful that the town is taking a proactive approach with the youth instead of a reactive approach. When we asked the students what they thought, they said they can’t wait to talk to their older siblings and parents, and cannot wait for their younger siblings to see it.”

With Ken’s help, Project Aware is expanding to more schools, impacting about 1,500 sixth graders.

Tell us about a team member at Hackensack Meridian Health who made all the difference in your care.

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